Mrs. Sonali Samarasinghe, Minister
Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
Before the Sixth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly 73rd Session
Agenda Item 86: Rule of Law at the National and International Levels
8 October 2018
Sri Lanka notes with appreciation the Report of the Secretary General A/73/253 on Strengthening and Coordinating United Nations Rule of Law Activities and its focus on achieving a more coordinated and cohesive effort to provide rule of law support to member states in the context of development, conflict and peace building.
The Rule of Law is a concept both simple and complex. At its purest it offers opportunity and equality to all citizens and demands accountability and adherence to a higher law, to which all persons and institutions including governments, must bow. It is a law that must conform to universal human rights principles of fairness and justice, must be broadly publicized, well established, clearly defined and stable. The Rule of Law demands that legal processes are accessible, and that laws are evenly enforced, and the independence of the judiciary is guaranteed.
And yet, every day, we see that laws are unevenly implemented. That the little people are often punished while those who amass for themselves great power go unpunished, or are well placed to manipulate laws, metastasize democratic institutions, and act with impunity.
As a result of this gap between the rhetoric of Rule of Law and reality, the lack of the rule of law can be found not only in societies ruled by dictators, but also in democracies. We see that today, the Rule of Law is not swept away in one great tsunami. Rather, it is gradually eroded by constant little ripples and waves of injustice, neglect and ignorance lashing against it. It is important therefore that societies have structures and strong corrective mechanisms to restore it.
It serves us well to recall the Universal Declaration of Human Rights crafted 70 years ago which states that “It is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.”
It is in this regard important to recognize the fundamental role of the rule of law in advancing the three pillars of the United Nations, namely, peace and security, human rights and development. Rule of Law is vital if the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 16 are to be achieved.
Sri Lanka experienced over a period of thirty years, a brutal onslaught from a brand of terrorism so cruel and devastating to its people, and an accompanying culture of impunity so crippling to its culture, that today, Sri Lankans are determined not to repeat past mistakes. Sri Lanka is acutely conscious of the value of a nation, built on the principles of democracy and the Rule of Law. It is our experience that the Rule of Law is the fulcrum upon which a fair and just society rests, and that the rule of law must be accompanied by independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers, if we are to advance peace, development and human rights.
To this end Sri Lanka has taken several steps to rebuild its democratic institutions and create a framework for reconciliation based on the pillars of truth, justice, reparations and non-recurrence. We have established and operationalized an Office of Missing Persons. Recognizing that the corner stone of democracy is a free and independent fourth estate, we passed a long awaited Right to Information Act. Together with the support of UN Agencies such as CTED and UNODC we have developed a Counter- Terrorism Bill in line with international best practices and human rights standards. The Bill which was in the works for three years was approved by cabinet last month. This crucial piece of legislation will replace the current Prevention of Terrorism laws. We recognize that Democratic governments have a duty to guarantee that violations will not re-occur, and a special duty to its own people to reform institutions that have proven to be incapable of preventing abuses in the past.
Where human frustration is prevalent that is when the rule of law is threatened. Therefore the rights of those most vulnerable among us -- minorities, women and children must be preserved. The empowerment of women and girls is essential.
Every day we see that structural inequalities, cultural barriers and negative stereotypes hinder the access to justice for women and girls. It is important not only to ensure a gender responsive legal system and international order, but also to have gender sensitive policies.
When speaking about the Rule of Law it is vital that the principles enshrined in Article 2 of the Charter of the United Nations: namely the principles of sovereign equality and non-interference, the prohibition on the threat or use of force and the obligation to settle international disputes peacefully. All states must be ensured equal opportunity to participate in the international law making process. The Rule of Law at the international level must protects all states, especially developing countries, from the harshness of an empirically unequal world.
The Rule of Law must be sensitive to the nuances of each condition that presents itself. Social, religious, philosophical and cultural factors have played a significant role in the evolution of the rule of law in different regions. Indeed the diversity of systems represented by Member States is an opportunity to find solutions in maintaining and advancing the rule of law as a tool for sustainable development, peace and security, and the realization of human rights.
Sri Lanka believes that the commitment of Member States to multilateral treaties, conventions and Compacts can help solidify international norms and advance collective responses to global problems. Therefore we are committed to implementing among others, the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement and also endorsing such documents as the Global Compact for Migration and Refugees. We endorsed the recent Action for Peacekeeping Declaration which represents collective action to strengthen peacekeeping.
Sri Lanka also welcomes the Intergovernmental Conference for the development of an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction
It is also important to strengthen partnerships and cooperation and to improve the availability of technical expertise and enhance the support provided by the United Nations system.
Finally the role of multilateral treaty processes in prompting and advancing the rule of law is important. The work of the International Law Commission, and that of the international court of justice, must be recognized for their contribution in entrenching the rule of law at the international level. Sri Lanka also commends the important contribution made by the Office of Legal Affairs in strengthening the multi-lateral treaty making process and also its work regarding the United Nations Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law.
In conclusion Mr. Chairperson, Sri Lanka will continue its efforts to reinforce the rule of law within its domestic legal system and looks forward to contributing actively and decisively to efforts to strengthen the rule of law at the international and national levels.